Storytellers 99, TinFish Productions. Just when it seemed that Halloween had been reduced to bowls of peeled grapes masquerading as eyeballs, “StoryTellers 99” reminds audiences what real terror is all about. This evening, featuring dramatizations of five classic horror stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, and others, isn’t about the bloodbaths common to “Jason Knows What You Did on Elm Street” serial thrillers. This is the stuff of deeper nightmares–being left for dead in a cold, dark cavern or becoming the prey of a “friend” with cruel intentions. What’s worse, these victims have all brought their horrific suffering on themselves. It’s a big Halloween karmafest.

These stories show some ugly but very real sides of human nature. Maybe that’s why they hold up so well: they’re not only timeless but easily make the transition from page to stage. Directors Jason Llamas and Laurie Kladis deserve credit for their adaptations and staging, as do the five actors, displaying significant range in their work. The material is an actor’s dream–brilliantly written, it demands intense solo performances (like Johnny Kastl’s monomaniacal monologuist in Telltale Heart) and varied ensemble interaction. And in TinFish’s minimalist space, the actors do more than usual to create the settings, from underground catacombs to warm English living rooms. That’s not to slight the technical staff, whose lighting and bad-weather sounds actually seem to make the room grow colder. Altogether this is an entertaining experience that won’t shock anyone into incontinence but may keep some people up nights.

–Kim Wilson